A recent YouGov poll shows that one in six Britons believe that the man’s landing on the moon was faked. What arguments are the deniers clinging to?
One of the conspiracy theories with the longest run is the one that claims that Neil Armstrong did not set foot on the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969. In fact, neither Armstrong nor any of the eleven astronauts who have traveled to the satellite to date today. For the deniers, it was all about a NASA montage recorded in a movie studio to win the space race against the USSR.
When they are about to turn fifty years of that «small step for man great step for humanity», the conspiracy theory survives. A recent YouGov poll shows that one in six Britons believes that man’s landing on the moon was faked. A percentage that increases among those under thirty-five years of age. What are deniers clinging on to to continue defending their theories?
1. Bill Kaysing
The origin of conspiracy theories that deny the arrival of a man on the Moon can be traced back to a single man: Bill Kaysing. Kaysing was a writer who had worked for a company that designed the engines of the Saturn V rockets. In 1976 he published a pamphlet entitled We Never Went to the Moon in which he claimed that none of the six landings between 1969 and 1972 had happened.
Among the arguments he made were the fact that no stars appeared in the photographs or the way the shadows were projected. To this day, all his arguments have been refuted by experts, but at the time Kaysing benefited from the distrust of the American people towards their Government due to the Watergate scandal to become the father of the lunar conspiracy theory. Kaysing died in 2005, and at that time he continued to assure that everything had been a montage recorded in a television studio.
2. The shadows
The irregular shadows that astronauts cast on the Moon have been one of the great «proofs» provided by the defenders of the conspiracy theory. According to them, the type of shadows that are observed can only be generated with different sources of light (such as the spotlights of a study) and on the Moon there is only one source of light: the Sun.
These ‘strange’ shadows, however, are caused by irregularities in the lunar terrain.
Another reason is that, despite the Sun being the only source of illumination, the light reflects off the surface, causing the illusion that some shadows are not parallel.
3. The flag
Another one of the favorite arguments by the deniers is that the American flag planted by the astronauts could not fly on the Moon since there is no wind there. But precisely for this reason a horizontal flagpole was placed at the top of the mast to keep the flag unfolded. By extending this pole, the flag was wrinkled, generating the illusion that it was waving.
The Van Allen belts are two areas of the Earth’s magnetosphere that concentrate highly radioactive energy-charged particles from the sun. Deniers say the astronauts should have suffered radiation damage crossing them. But the reality is that they spent less than two hours in the belts and traveled in capsules that protected them from the particles. The amount of radiation they received was the equivalent of an X-ray.
5. Lack of stars
In the photographs and videos of the missions to the Moon, no stars are observed. For deniers, this is one of the biggest pieces of evidence that it was all a hoax. According to them, NASA preferred not to paint a starry sky in the study where it recorded the montage to avoid errors in the positioning of the stars that could be detected by astronomers. The truth is that if the stars do not appear in the images, it is because to capture them the exposure times of the photographs should have been much longer than those allowed by the cameras carried by the astronauts.
6. The Fox documentary
In 2001 Fox News aired the documentary Did We Land on the Moon? With which the lunar conspiracy not only entered the modern era but also caused NASA to change its strategy against it. So far, the space agency had preferred not to respond to the deniers, but after the documentary was broadcast, this changed.
As Roger Launius, former NASA chief historian, explains to The Guardian, those who were asking the questions were no longer conspiracies, but parents and teachers who asked how to answer the doubts that the documentary had generated in their children. The agency’s response was to create a website and send material to the teachers to demonstrate the falsehoods that the documentary was counting on. And what did it count on? Basically, they were Kaysing’s arguments recycled for a new generation.
The film industry has taken advantage of conspiracy theories and, to a lesser or greater extent, has fueled them. One of the first references to the alleged NASA montage appears in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. In one scene, the character played by Sean Connery sneaks into a space agency facility where a simulated moon landing is being filmed.
Capricorn One, released in 1977, tells how NASA simulates a mission to Mars due to the impossibility of carrying it out. In the film, the space agency films the landing on Earth and broadcasts the images as if they were real, leading the ‘conspiracy’ to ensure that the story is based on what happened with the missions to the Moon.
More recently, Interstellar also includes a scene in which a teacher admits that the montage happened. Also noteworthy is the mockumentary Dark Side of the Moon, which speculates that the images of the moon landing were recorded by Stanley Kubrick.
The truth is that with the special effects that existed then it would have been impossible to shoot images that were credible.
One of the things that the Internet has made possible is that anyone can tell anything to a much larger audience than ever before in history. Platforms like YouTube facilitate the dissemination of alleged evidence that fuels conspiracy theories. The difference between the original deniers and the current ones, however, is in their motives. While the former were motivated by resentment against the US government, the current ones seem more driven by boredom. That is, they do not seek the truth so much as to be entertained.